When the Israelites come to Samuel asking for a king and a displeased Samuel prays for direction, the Lord says some interesting things that indicate Israel has a deeper problem.
7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. (1 Samuel 8:7-8)
If you remember, the people used as a cover the excuse that Samuel’s sons were perverting judgment, but Samuel had not stepped down as judge and he could deal with his sons, and in that respect the current system was not faulty enough to require a change.
Rather, this was a case where the system was working well and the people didn’t like it because it was working. They had to really watch their Ps and Qs and it was strenuous. Living the Law of Moses carefully made them more conscious of their fallen nature and need for a Redeemer and they didn’t like that.
I like that the Lord shows Samuel that it is not Samuel that was rejected, but the Lord Himself. Again, Samuel was the judge, but he wasn’t laying down his own law; he was following God’s law in the Law of Moses, and if they didn’t like that, then they didn’t like God’s law and they didn’t like having God rule over them.
Also, the Lord shows Samuel that this rejection was nothing new, but it was of a piece with all the rebellions the Israelites had done against God ever since they had been brought out of Egypt—the times they had murmured over food, the times some parties aspired to the higher priesthood and leadership, the time they had refused to go up to conquer the land and then when told not to go up, they decided to go up anyway, the time they had made a golden calf instead of waiting for Moses, and all the times they had forsaken God and worshipped Baal. Their problem is sin, and changing government systems is not going to address that. What they need is a national call to repentance (and they get it in 1 Samuel 12).
One of the things this teaches me is that things are no different today and I am no better. I tend to wander and I have to repent. If I don’t listen to the counsel of my church leaders, I’m just like those people who wanted a king. Trying to avoid keeping commandments is outright rejection of God as ruler over me. If I don’t follow God, I’m following something else and making that thing or person my god.
Yes, following the Lord requires discipleship and sacrifice day after day. It’s a struggle. Seeking to subdue the sin that dwells in the flesh is a struggle. But it is cool to me that effort doesn’t just show my allegiance to the Lord but it also is meant to help me become like Him in grace-filled increments.
It's also a good message for around election time. New leaders aren't going to help if the same old nation-wide sins continue. Only nation-wide repentance will bring real change.
There’s something else I notice in what the Lord says to Samuel. I notice that the Lord is willing to take from Samuel that feeling of being rejected and take it upon Himself. Feeling rejected is not pleasant. It hurts. It touches me that this story has a type of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and sufferings here, even to cover the hurt of rejection. That means that anytime we are in a leadership position and our righteous direction is ignored or our counsel is rejected, we can turn to the Lord for comfort.